Discipleship: Developing Your Authentic Self

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When considering the ideas and thoughts surrounding Church burnout, it became apparent that there is another serious issue facing many Christians today – in both their personal and church lives. The issue is a lack of spiritual and emotional maturity, leading to the cultivation of a ‘false self’ and a layering over our true self.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” | 1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV

Layering Over Our True Self

When we accept the saving work of Jesus in our lives and commit to a life lived in him, we become a new creature. It is a metaphorical rebirth to ‘newness of life’. We are, as Corinthians explains, like little children, with all the wide-eyed wonder of this new life stretching out before us. This faith and dependence on God to undertake great things for us is commended by Jesus and he goes so far as to say that “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4, NIV). This childlike faith is essential to beginning a relationship with God, through Jesus, and this kind of faith needs to remain a constant in our lives.

And yet, many Christians never develop further than this moment. They remain as children, spiritually immature and never attaining to the radical transition of living faithfully to their true selves in Christ. Instead of genuine spiritual growth, beginning from their core and being demonstrated exponentially in their lives, Christians layer over their potential true self with a false reality of who they are.

They are concerned about who other people think they are rather than being concerned about who God thinks they are. They are emotionally disconnected from the reality of what life with Jesus really looks like, in real and practical terms. Christian life becomes theory rather than practice. This process of layering – creating and developing a false self over the top of core emotional truths – ensures that we remain entrapped and enslaved to ‘the old man’, rather than liberated in Jesus as a new creation.

The Deception Of The False Self

The deeply entrenched false self is actually a refusal to accept God’s grace and its transforming effect on our life. Instead of being defined by what God has done for us, we become defined by who we perceive we are. We tell ourselves, I am what I do; I am what I have; I am what others think I am. We are driven by performance, possessions or popularity, rather than by who we are to God.

The broader culture around us certainly substantiates this point of view and it can be very difficult to dismantle the false self and allow our true self in Christ to emerge. Yet, this is our life’s work and is the essence of what discipleship really means. To think otherwise is to be deceived.

Following God Into The Unknown

Getting to your core requires following God into the unknown – to being committed to emotional and spiritual reality, not denial or illusion. It means developing a relationship with Him and becoming who God has called you to be. Initially, it requires that childlike faith, but on that faith must be built conviction, through the process of discipleship.

Jesus’ life was dominated by his conviction that he was sent to do his Father’s will. This conviction produced a deep awareness of his life’s purpose and he remained deeply connected and authentic to his true self. When people develop Christlike convictions, they too will develop a sense of purpose in life.

At times, our false self has become such a part of who we are that we don’t even realise it. However, the consequences – fear, self-protection, possessiveness, manipulation, self-destructive tendencies, self-promotion, self-indulgence, and a need to distinguish ourselves from others – are harder to hide.

Discipleship: Developing Your Authentic Self

To be a disciple, in the biblical sense, is to be actively imitating both the life and teaching of the master. It isn’t the same as being a student, by today’s modern understanding, but is rather a deliberate apprenticeship which makes the fully formed disciple a living copy of the master.

This process of discipleship is a principle-centered, character-based “inside out” approach to developing our authentic self in Christ. It means to start first with ourselves; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self – our core – and to honestly analyse our paradigms, our character and our motives.

“The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It says that it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try and improve relationships with others before improving ourselves” | Stephen Covey

It is a process that moves us from being a spiritually and emotionally immature child to being a fully mature and developed adult –  “a person dedicated to God, and capable and equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17, NET).

Discipleship Comes From Differentiation

A helpful way to clarify this process of growing in our faithfulness to our true selves is by using the term ‘differentiation’. Differentiation is a person’s capacity to “define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them.” The key emphasis of differentiation is on the ability to think clearly and carefully as another means, besides our feelings, of knowing ourselves.

People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals and values apart from the pressures around them. They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others.

People with a low level of differentiation are those with little sense of their unique God-given life. They need continual affirmation and validation from others because they don’t have a clear sense of who they are. They depend on what other people think and feel in order to have a sense of their own worth and identity.

Church Life Shouldn’t Come At The Expense Of A Personal Relationship With God

A healthy church life provides many benefits. We find peace and fulfillment in Jesus. Our lives become enriched, our burdens are eased, and we develop supportive relationships to help us in hard times. Service within our church becomes something that fills us with joy and deep personal fulfillment.

However, we need to remember that the most important relationship in our life is the one between God and ourselves. He is the one who sees clearly to the heart of us. He can distinguish between our authentic self and the cultivated ‘false self’ that others may see. And He, alone, judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

Our church life should therefore become an extension of our relationship with God. As church or Christian communities, we need to ensure we develop strategies and skills to grow in our discipleship and to move towards being emotionally and spiritually mature. This includes biblical ways to integrate emotions like anger, sadness or fear and being able to deal with these in authentic ways.

Four Ways To Develop Your Authentic Self

  1. Pay attention to your interior (the “heart of you”) in silence and solitude.
  2. Find trusted companions to help you along the way.
  3. Move out of your comfort zone.
  4. Pray for courage.

As Christian people, one of the greatest gifts we can give our world is to be a community of emotionally healthy adults who love well. This will take the power of God and a commitment to learn, grow and break with unhealthy, destructive patterns that may go back generations in our families and cultures – and in some cases, our Christian culture also.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you should love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among one another.” | John 13:34-35, BLB

I owe a great deal of thanks to the following authors; Peter Scazzero, Rick Warren and Stephen Covey, for their insight, wisdom and valuable words regarding this subject. I have quoted extensively from their works. In particular, I would highly recommend the book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero as an excellent starting point for anyone genuinely interested in investing in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm.
This article was first published on 20 June 2018

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